Part Nine: Time (JJ22 Director’s Note)

“With time margin we can better enjoy what we are doing, we have a more wholesome anticipation of our next activity, we are more contemplative, we are more in touch with God and with each other, we have more time for service, and we actually delight in looking for the divine interruptions He sends us.” —Richard A. Swenson, M.D., Margin (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2004), p. 129.

“Time” continues my newsletter column series on Margin—the antidote to overload, burnout, and many mental health struggles. Time margin has been forced on us in recent months. Time seems to have taken on new meaning this season. This applies in more ways than one to Juggle Jam 22.

The concept of time has been a theme of our company’s history and culture. Consider: 1) Our original juggling Club met weekly for 1.5 hours with 4th-6th graders. Our range of Club hours is now 3:00-6:30 p.m. (to accommodate varying school release times and families’ commutes) and includes 2nd-12th graders, maximizing the years any given child/youth can be with us. 2) School years and Jughead careers are both seen through the lens of time. Chronological measurements include company experience and growing anticipation through weekly countdowns toward cherished events—especially Juggle Jam.    3) Every JJ is planned by 15-second increments for time management and show flow.

I planned my Mister Rogers tribute/parody long before I knew that Wendy & I would be forced to produce JJ22 in our own home and neighborhood! Inspired by the 2019 film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and the 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, I like to think that Fred Rogers’ iconic children’s program and our unique youth variety show have some things in common. We expect high production values but try to place heart over hype; we try whenever possible to look at JJ through the eyes of one child; and we have cherished traditions that may seem campy but offer friendly familiarity and familial feelings.

In an episode from the early ‘70’s, Mr. Rogers held up an egg timer: “Let’s see how long a minute is.” Then he just sat there for a full 60 seconds—on TV, mind you—waiting for the timer to end. There are countless other examples of how Fred Rogers let a scene or a conversation breathe. His slow rate of speech and his relaxed, deliberate movements and camera connections allowed silence to linger unlike most any show before or since. While I’m a fast-talker with a directing style prone to overlap the action, Fred’s time margin offers wisdom, especially in a society high on efficiency but low on time.

Our JJ22 subtitle is “Catch-22: The more you juggle, the more you drop.” As we revamped the show amidst the lockdown, Assistant Director Erica Liddle coined a modified subtitle: “The Catch-22 Digital Experience.” The former phrase reflects a general principle of juggling; the latter reflects the specific reality of this year’s show. 

Ecclesiastes 3 connects both time and catch-22 dichotomies through 14 couplet concepts held in constant tension: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (v. 1, ESV). Right now, I deem that v. 4b is the best summary of our season as a company and our efforts to produce this all-digital show. JJ22 is both “a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” We mourn the loss of a live, vaudeville-like variety show, but we dance in our living rooms. We mourn the lack of in-person community, but we dance in our hearts over belonging together—even remotely. We mourn for dashed expectations, but we dance over giddy anticipation for “making the best use of the time” (Ephesians 5:16, ESV) during “such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

On behalf of the staff, SLT, and many parents who have collaborated on our “team effort of the decade,” we thankyou for taking the time— about 2.5 hours with self-regulated intermissions ;-)—to put mourning aside and dance with us for a while. 

May JJ22 add some light and blessing in this dark time. 

May you feel connected with us despite our show’s time-delay and mourning over physical distancing. 

May you say with gratefulness to God regarding JJ22 and even the global crisis itself: 

He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  

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